On Wednesday afternoon, we met with the Rt. Hon. Nick Hurd MP, The Grenfell Minister.
We had 4 key points that we raised at the meeting:
1. Justice4Grenfell is supporting Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith, who has tabled a private members Bill on Freedom of Information Act (Extension). The Bill highlights how dependent we have become on contractors for public services, yet the current FOI Act suffers from a major loophole; information which the contractors themselves hold about their services may not be covered. If the contract doesn’t give the authority the right to obtain that information from the contractor, the public has no right to it from the authority. The transfer of a function from the authority’s staff to the contractors, may signal the denial of the public’s right to know under FOI.
When the Grenfell Action Group made FOI requests to the former Kensington and Chelsea TMO, they were denied this. They will now be given that information by the Grenfell Inquiry and Police Investigation. It may be that if the Grenfell Action Group had accessed and scrutinised crucial information prior to June 14th 2017, the fire at Grenfell Tower would not have happened.
Justice4Grenfell supports this bill, and we have asked the Rt Hon. Nick Hurd MP to support it when it gets a debate date in Parliament.
2. We have also asked the Minister to look at applying the same principle to the Public-Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010.
The Act should be amended so that Public Authorities outsourcing bounds Contractors to the Duty. The broad purpose of the equality duty is to integrate consideration of equality and good relations into the day-to-day business of public authorities. If you do not consider how a function can affect different groups in different ways, it is unlikely to have the intended effect. This can contribute to greater inequality and poor outcomes.
Compliance with the general equality duty is a legal obligation, but it also makes good business sense. An organisation that is able to provide services to meet the diverse needs of its users, should find that it carries out its core business more efficiently. By outsourcing public services to contractors has allowed a caveat for them to renege on their statutory duties.
3. Justice4Grenfell attended the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday 24th July. It is clear that community trust and confidence in the work of the local authority is not improving and the mere change of venue for the GRSC is not working.
The GRSC intends to co-opt four community members to the committee. We have asked the minister to support our request that one of the co-opted members is also appointed as a co-chair to alongside current Chair Cllr Robert Thompson. There needs to be action to build trust and confidence, not just words and venue changes. Not only will the appointment of a community co-chair begin to build public trust, but it will also ensure that there is somebody chairing who really understands the needs and temperament of the community.
4. Additionally, a huge contribution to building trust and confidence would be a ‘tier of scrutinisers’ at RBKC who the community will have immediate trust in.
Justice4Grenfell discussed with the Minister that it would be prudent for RBKC to have non-executive Directors with effective community knowledge and understanding plus equal decision-making powers to the CEO. This would instantly increase openness and transparency and be a great step towards building community trust and confidence.
We hope that Minister has listened and will support these recommendations.
This week at the Inquiry, we heard further evidence from fire fighters who attended Grenfell Tower on the 14th June 2017 and also evidence from the control room staff.
There were many issues that came up this week, including problems with the water pressure that has been described by some only as powerful as “a garden hose”.
Here are some questions that we believe the Inquiry should have asked this week:
- Do you think the training that you received was sufficient to enable you to respond to Grenfell fire adequately?
- Following the inquest into Lakanal House fire in 2009, did the Department for Communities and Local government publish consolidated national guidance in relation to the “stay put” principle and it’s interaction with the “get out and stay out” policy?
- What impact has the fall in funding to local fire and rescue authorities, especially the loss of specialist fire safety posts, had on the provision of an effective fire service ?
- How did the water pressure impact on your ability to manage this fire?
The Inquiry is proving to have the most multicultural participants in an Inquiry that Britain has ever seen.
Whilst the corporate sector, the Local Authority and the Lawyers will likely be less diverse, we know that the vast amount of Core Participants will be from all over the world, have different faiths and will speak multiple languages.
This week at the Inquiry, Crew Manager Jamal Stern took the stand. Before he began giving evidence, Richard Millett QC offered his apologies to Firefighter Stern as he was about to be presented a Quran which was missing it’s cover. Might I add that no other witness has been presented a underprepared Holy Book.
Firefighter Stern decided to make his affirmation anyway.
After 13 months of the phrases ‘Institutional’ and ‘Cultural Indifference’, how was the Inquiry underprepared for it’s first Muslim witness? When we return from the summer break, will the Inquiry have remembered that they need to obtain a Quran with a cover, or will this be forgotten too? Will the Ethiopian Orthodox witnesses who will be due to take the stand later this year be presented with the correct Holy book?
It may seem like a small oversight, but it’s incredibly reflective of how those of other religions are treated on a daily basis within this Country – as well as being reflective of the way that certain witnesses who are not from the UK have been treated since the 14th June 2017.
This can be seen with the Home Office’s decisions to not extend Visas to immediate relatives of those that died at Grenfell Tower, and not having Visas ready for burials and the commemorative hearings, which some family members had to miss.
I hope that with the additional ‘diverse’ panel members chosen to join Phase Two, this habit will be broken. But as we know, if you have little or no experience in dealing with BAME individuals and communities, these oversights will only continue to happen.
By Tasha Brade (J4G Campaigner)
David Lammy MP is the Labour MP for Tottenham.
Securing justice for the catastrophic Grenfell fire has two key components. First, those responsible for the gross corporate negligence and manslaughter need to be identified, arrested and sentenced. Second, the government needs to take steps to ensure that no tower block fire on the tragic scale of Grenfell is repeated. Over recent days, we have had progress on both of these counts, but over a year since 14th June 2017, full justice remains a long way off.
The Met Police has revealed that the Grenfell fire investigation has now moved onto a new phase. People will be interviewed under caution, as detectives consider who is responsible for “gross negligence manslaughter, corporate manslaughter and breaches of the Health and Safety Act.” I see it as vital for the victims and for faith in the police that the individuals responsible are punished, as opposed to limiting retribution to fines for corporations. It is understandable that the police take their time to untangle the thousands of pages of evidence, but the perpetrators must be brought to justice as soon as possible.
On the second aspect of justice for Grenfell, the government is right to ban flammable cladding on new high-rises. However, this does not go nearly far enough. Why should residents in existing buildings, with similarly dangerous cladding, be expected to live under the spectre of fear? How are they expected to sleep at night? The construction industry needs to be forced to wake up after Grenfell. A new era of construction, which prioritises fire safety, is vital, unless this industry wants even more blood on its hands.
By David Lammy MP For Tottenham
Matt Wrack is the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.
The Fire Brigades Union stands side by side with the North Kensington community as the terrible agonies of 14 June 2017 are replayed at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The public is looking at the events unfolding, clearly wanting to know the truth, but also expecting like us, that the years of de-regulation, risk-taking and cost-cutting are to come to an end.
We want to see a complete and total ban of flammable cladding. It is shocking that more than a year after the Grenfell Tower fire that this killer material is still in use. We want to see an end to the privatization of the fire safety inspection regime which has driven down standards. It has created a system where private, uncertified inspectors rubber-stamp building works as they have to win the repeat business of building owners.
What is shocking and sickening is that a year after the fire, people are still not re-housed. A year on we have hundreds of buildings with the same cladding. A year on nothing has really been done. Imagine if this had been a terror attack. Any such attack – even with far fewer deaths – would have resulted in much greater action. Theresa May would probably have invaded a country by now.
But since this is 72 people who died in their own homes, we just see inaction and continued complacency.
The Fire Brigades Union stands side by side with the North Kensington community and with the bereaved, the survivors and other residents affected by the fire. We want the entire labour movement to stand with us and to ensure Grenfell becomes a central political issue which we do not allow to be brushed under the carpet. More than anything we need to achieve justice for Grenfell.
By Matt Wrack
This week, at the Inquiry, we heard further evidence from fire fighters who attended Grenfell Tower on 14th June 2017 and also evidence from Jo Smith, Senior Operations Manager, who attended the Control Centre after 2.00am on the night and on hearing the emergency calls from residents, indicated to the call handlers to tell residents to ‘leave the building’.
An apparent emerging theme this week was the inadequacy of communication methods and equipment available to our emergency services.
Additionally, this week, bereaved families have complained about the cramped conditions, with little sunlight at Holborn Bars. Again, paramedics had to attend to treat someone who fainted.
J4G questions to the Inquiry this week:
- Why in 21stCentury Britain do we have an emergency service still reliant on outdated radio equipment?
- Is it an indictment on government that our Fire Service had to rely on white boards, pens and ‘scraps’ of paper to record and communicate where residents were and what the conditions were in the Tower?
- Why don’t our fire service have mobile phones that can record dialogue and be linked to an electronic recording system?
- Should the Fire Service’s training budget be increased immediately?
- Have the firefighters and officers who have given evidence so far; received adequate counselling for PSTD and trauma?
- Is the Venue at Holborn Bars suitable for the Inquiry hearings?
There was a focus last week on the ‘stay put policy,’; a policy the LFB use when fighting fire in high rise buildings. Most of the firefighters that gave evidence this week took the stand for several hours undergoing gruelling questioning and painfully recalling memories of what happen on that night. Their priority was to save lives, even if it meant at times risking their own.
There was also a focus on the lateness in implementing an evacuation policy and how ‘Order of Command’ and/or Rank dictates when and if a change in procedure can be made. Usually this is an officer not fighting the fire!
Evident last week, was that none of the firefighters were aware of any particular risks associated with the cladding.
Finally, the Home Office could force bereaved families with Core Participation Status to return home before the conclusion of the Grenfell Inquiry; as their visas are to be limited to six months.
Questions J4G would have asked this week:
- Why in 21st Century Britain would our fire service have a shortage of basic equipment; including breathing apparatus, hose nozzles and door breaking equipment?
- How can the fire service enable those actually fighting the fire to move from a stay put policy to an evacuation procedure policy with urgency rather than awaiting bureaucratic responses?
- Do you think that the ‘stay put’ policy should be immediately suspended until all flammable cladding is removed from all buildings across the UK, and is completely banned?
- Could recommendations following the Piper Alpha disaster 30 years ago, have made a difference or avoided the Grenfell Disaster?
- By not issuing longer term visas to bereaved families, do you think that the Home Office is making the Inquiry is a ‘hostile environment’?
- Do you think that the firefighters evidenced this week at the Inquiry showed us that these are ordinary firefighters who did extraordinary things on June 14th 2018?
- Do we live in a society where some lives just don’t matter?
Phase 1 of the Inquiry continues with Part 4 – The Outbreak of the Fire
Interviews this week included Firefighter Michael Dowden – the Watch Manager who took the ‘stand’ for 3 days; Crew Manager, Charles Batterbee who was first to respond to the fire along with Firefighter Daniel Brown and Firefighter David Badillo, who have also given evidence.
The Culture of the Inquiry this week seems to be focussing on junior ranking staff, questioning them like suspects and questioning their competence to do their job.
Inquiry lead Counsel Richard Millet QC asked the firefighters many questions. Most of the questions he posed opened with the phrase ‘Do you think …….?’
Here are some questions that J4G think that Counsel should have been asked:
- Do you think that cuts to the fire service played a role in the response to the fire at Grenfell Tower?
- Do you think that removing the responsibility of fire safety checks from firefighters contributed to the fire?
- Do you think that not having a fire engine with a long enough hose or ladder in central London hindered the response to the fire?
- Do you think that the governmental failure to implement the recommendations from the Lakanal House investigation contributed to the fire?
- Do you think there is anything that needs to be changed immediately on fire safety that could have made a difference if they were in place on the night?
- Do you think it should be those who made the policies, deregulation changes and cost cutting schemes sitting here and answering these questions?
- Do you think there should be an outright ban on flammable cladding?
- Do you think I should question you in a more respectful way?